Hold It All

Tag: Abraham Joshua Heschel

His Memory Always a Blessing

From Rabbi Michael Lerner:

Daniel Berrigan was one of the most inspiring figures of the anti-war and social justice movements of the past fifty years. He died on Saturday, April 30, 2016, and will be sorely missed by all of us who knew him. I was first introduced to him by my mentor Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1968 when he and Heschel and Martin Luther King had become prominent voices in the Clergy and Laity Against the War in Vietnam. He told me that he had been inspired by the civil disobedience and militant demonstrations that were sweeping the country in 1966-68, many of them led by Students for a Democratic Society (at the time I was chair of the University of California Berkeley chapter). Over the course of the ensuing 48 years I was inspired by his activism and grateful for his support for Tikkun magazine. Heschel told me how very important Dan was for him–particularly in the dark days after Nixon had been elected and escalated the bombings in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Those of us who were activists were particularly heartened by his willingness to publicly challenge the chicken-heartedness and moral obtuseness of religious leaders in the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish world who privately understood that the Vietnam war was immoral but who would not publicly condemn it and instead condemned the nonviolent activism of the anti-war movement because we were disobeying the law, burning our draft cards, disrupting the campus recruitment into the CIA and the ROTC, and blocking entrance into army recruitment centers and the Pentagon!

We at Tikkun magazine, the voice of Jewish progressives, liberals, radicals and anti-capitalist non-violent revolutionaries, will deeply mourn the loss of our brother Daniel Berrigan. His memory will always be a blessing (zeycher tzadik liv’racha).

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Troublemakers (The Prophetic/2)

The major activity of the prophets was interference
Remonstrating about wrongs inflicted on other people
Meddling in affairs which were seemingly neither their concern
Nor their responsibility

A prudent woman is she who minds her own business
Staying away from questions which do not involve her own interests
Particularly when not authorized to step in
And prophets were given no mandate
By the widows and orphans to plead their cause
The prophet is a person who is not tolerant of wrongs done to others
Who resents other people’s injuries
She even calls upon others to be the champions of the poor

–adapted from Abraham Joshua Heschel

Poet against War – Aharon Shabtai: A Voice Mocking in The Wilderness

It’s summertime and this means vacation for some of us, and people will be browsing in chain bookstores for the perfect summer escapist read:  mysteries, sci-fi, biographies, anything to take our minds off of work, all that needs to be done, or the depressing state of the world. How alien this is to Kafka’s stern declaration of reading:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. [1]

Recently, I have come to know whereof Kafka speaks.  Last fall and winter, I worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At the ISM office in Rafah, someone had posted a verse from Bertolt Brecht:  “In the dark times/ Will there be singing?/Yes, there will be singing/About the dark times.” There was also taped to a wall a review from the New York Times of a collection of poems, J’Accuse by the Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai. [2]  The review itself grabbed my attention: Shabtai is an Israeli humanist and classics prof at Tel Aviv University taking on the Israeli establishment and the IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces).

When I returned home to St. Louis, I immediately bought the book and have carried it around as an aide-mémoire: Shabtai reminds me of so much that took place during my ten weeks in the occupied territories: checkpoints, roadblocks, detentions, gunfire on a nightly basis from the sniper towers and tanks, the daily grind of poverty and joblessness, and homes reduced to rubble courtesy of the only democracy in the Middle East.  You have to see it to believe it, friends said who’d previously gone and worked with ISM.  An old adage, to be sure, but one I came to appreciate.  Standing at a checkpoint for two ours in the early afternoon and the sun damn near drove me to mania – what if I had to face that everyday for hours? About the causes for despair in Palestine, most Americans haven’t got a clue.

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